The family’s history
My father’s family, of French descent, owned large parcels of land in their hometown of Nazareth. After the 1948 war and the formation of Israel, most lands with absentee owners were confiscated by the state. Since my grandfather was living in what became after 1948 as the West Bank of Jordan, absent from Nazareth, his properties including his house were lost.
My mother’s family prior to the war lived in Joppa, which is now part of Tel Aviv-Yafo, ended up in no better shape. In April 1948 as the hostilities escalated, and as Zionist settlers killed many Arab Palestinians, civilians fearing for their lives started leaving their homes hoping to return once the violence subsided. My mother was seventeen, and her older brother’s wife who was nine months pregnant and expecting in a couple of days, gave her husband an ultimatum. If her obstetrician were to leave… she would not stay behind… wherever he went she had to go, she would not agree to anyone else delivering her baby. As it happened, her obstetrician did evacuate two days before Easter, and she found out the next day as the family was preparing their Easter meal. My uncle was obliged to go find out when the next caravan escorted by the British army would depart Joppa. He learned by his inquiries that the next caravan was to leave in a couple of hours, so he rushed to hire a taxi and went strait home. My mother recalls him rushing into the house and ordering every one: “leave every thing as it lay… grab a sweater and get into the car waiting outside.” The Easter meal was left in the oven and on the stove as he shut off the gas while every one piled into the waiting car. The car sped through the deserted streets to the meeting point. As the caravan formed, four British army jeeps, with machine guns mounted in their beds, took position at the front and rear of the column. It was a seen similar to what we saw on TV during July of 2006 as Lebanese families evacuated the south of Lebanon. As the caravan slowly made its way to Amman via Ramallah it came under fire several times, and one of my mother’s cousins, riding in a different car, took several rounds in his left arm which later had to be amputated. Towards sunset the caravan approached Ramallah, and the car carrying my mother’s family started to overheat. A decision was made to leave the caravan to rest the car and make repairs. My uncle secured a place to spend the night at one of the many shelters set up in Ramallah for evacuees. They settled for the evening in the cafeteria of the school for the blind, were my aunt (my mother’s sister) happened to hold a teaching position.
The next morning the driver found my uncle and informed him that the car’s engine was burned, and my uncle needed to make other arrangements for transportation to Amman. As a result of his wife’s condition, a decision was made to stay in Ramallah for the delivery, and return to Joppa when it became safe to go back. To this day my uncle’s family lives in the temporary house they rented in Ramallah. Their house in Jappa, along with my two uncles’ furniture factory (the largest in the middle east at the time) were confiscated by an Israeli government entity, and handed over to Jewish settlers. That was the fate of all properties with absentee owners whom were denied entry into the newly formed state of Israel after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948.
That is why I was born in Jerusalem during 1962, to parents with modest means, although both their families were well to do but with no access to their wealth.
Prior to my first war
For the first four years of my life, my parents and I lived in Bethlehem. We moved to Amman in 1966 after my father took a position with a pharmaceutical company in Amman, and the one-hour commute form Bethlehem became difficult for him.
Amman, at that time was built on seven mountains, Al-Ashrafiyeh, Al-Taj, Al-Natheef, Amman, Al-Weybdeh, Al-Husein, and the exclusive Al-Qusoor were the royal family’s palaces were built. Downtown Amman consisted of a small narrow valley that zigzagged between these mountains, providing a link between the seven communities. If you wanted to go from one mountain to the next, the road through down town was the shortest route. The word for mountain or mount in Arabic is Jabal; therefore, every mountain has the word Jabal as the first part of its name, designating it as mount so and so.
My parents rented a modest house in Jabal Al-Ashrafiyeh, a new popular neighborhood where a lot of Palestinians moving to Amman would settle. Although Jerusalem was the center of all action, Amman was on the rise. Having now lived in Amman for about a year, my father saw the growth potential for the young capital city of Jordan, and decided to go into business for himself rather than work for someone else. He purchased a young pharmaceutical company called Chemopharma, and leased warehouse space in Jabal El-Weybdeh, at a strategic location across the street from the back entrance to the main post office. It took less than five minutes to walk down a steep hill to get to down town Amman.
On the weekends we would go visit my grandparents who lived in the small town of Beit Jala, located 2-km (1 mile) west of Bethlehem and 5-km (3 miles) south of Jerusalem. We would also visit my mother’s brother who lived in Ramallah and her Aunt who lived in Jerusalem. I used to always be exited on the way to see them… driving my parents nuts asking how much longer before we get there, so I could play with my favorite cousin Randa. On the way home I would fall asleep in the back seat of the car, and my father would carry me upstairs to my bed once we made it home.
In September of 1966, I started attending Ecole d’Enfant, a French curriculum elementary school located in Jabal Amman. Every morning my father would drive me to school in his forest green Plymouth Baby Valiant, and he would be waiting for me at the school entrance when school let out. That was our daily routine for two years, until I started first grade and was able to ride the school bus.
My First War
I was a little over three months short of my fifth birthday on Sunday June 4th, 1967 when my parents and I made the routine trip to Beit Jala, but this time it was not to visit. As the rhetoric increased, and war between the Israelis and the Arabs became imminent, my father fearing for the safety of my grandparents decided that they should come stay with us until things calmed down. We arrived late that afternoon, and it did not take my father long to convince my grandfather that it would be safer to ride out the war in Amman.
The next morning I was awakened early by the commotion in my grandparents house. An argument was taking place between my grandmother on one side and my father and grandfather on the other side. “I have not slept on another mattress in eight years… and I do not want to find out what will happen to my back if I did” my grandmother was arguing passionately. My father responded calmly “mom… it is only going to be for a few days… and if you do not like my mattress I’ll go buy one that will make you comfortable”. My grandmother replied with more passion and a higher pitch voice, “you have no idea what I went through to find this mattress… it was custom made… I will not be able to sleep on any other mattress...” My grandfather jumped in with a firm voice “Margaret… if we take the mattress there will be no room in the car for the kids.”
As I snuck into the den filled with curiosity, wanting to hear the heated conversation, I heard my mother’s voice coming out of nowhere “good morning sweetheart.” Everyone turned around and looked at me as my grandmother stormed out of the room. “Why are you fighting?” I asked, as my grandfather picked me up and sat me in his lap and said, “good morning chéri… we’re not fighting… we’re having a discussion about bedtime hang-ups...what would you like to have for breakfast?” “A Kit Kat bar?” I replied. The early morning argument was not settled… and my grandmother was in a bad mood the rest of the morning.
As I played in the front yard after breakfast… I spotted my three cousins, coming up the mountain, riding the back of a donkey in the middle of the street. Charley was sixteen, Sam was twelve, and Bill was nine. My excitement took over as I ran out the gate and down the street to greet them. My grandmother came out after me, and as soon as she saw them she started rebuking them. Once again they had borrowed Mr. Awad’s donkey without permission… “But grandma…it is so hard to carry our bags and walk up hill,” said my oldest cousin as the other two laughed. They were attending a boarding school half way down the mountain, and my grandfather the previous day had walked to the school and requested they be released so they could travel with us to Amman. After feeding my cousins, my grandmother took the rinds of the water Mellon she had cut for desert, and placed them on a platter that she took out to the donkey, along with a bucket of water. As I stood there fascinated by how the donkey ate the rinds, the mattress argument resumed. I missed most of it since the donkey was more interesting, but caught up when my father and my uncle came out of the house carrying a mattress. My father asked me to open the back door of the car and they proceeded to stuff the mattress into the back seat, as my grand parents came out to observe. My grandmother asked my father “and were do you expect us to sit?” and my grandfather replied, “That is what we have been trying to tell you Margaret.” “Put it in the trunk,” my grandmother ordered, and my father and uncle exchanged looks. My father walked to the trunk and opened it, and instructed my uncle, “Alexander… can you please push from the other side as I pull it out.” By then a crowd was gathering as the rest of the family and the neighbors came out to enjoy the entertainment. Every possible scenario was tried, including tying the mattress on the roof of the car with part of it sagging unto the windshield and obstructing visibility.
After my grandmother was convinced that there was no possible way to take the mattress, we all piled into the car; it was 10 A.M. My father drove down the mountain only to be stopped by a Jordanian army barricaded that was being erected in the middle of the road to block traffic. “The war has started… The war has started… Turn around and go back,” yelled one of the soldiers as he walked towards us, after dismounting one of the jeeps with the extra long antennas parked on the other side of the barricaded.
As my father turned the car around and drove up the mountain, silence prevailed in the car. I turned around and watched the Jordanian soldiers work on their barricade until they disappeared from my view. He parked the car by the house and every one got out as my grandfather rushed back into the house to turn the radio on. All of us piled into the den without saying a word as my grandfather tuned the radio to different stations. After tuning in three stations that had martial music, he settled on the fourth one that had what sounded like a man reading a news bulletin. My mother and grandmother went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. It wasn’t much later before we heard the first explosions, and I ran to one of the windows to look across the street at the town in the valley bellow. I saw piles of dirt splashing in circles, with columns of smoke rising from them; the dirt resembled the splash water makes when a rock is tossed into a body of water. My mother came and garbed me and pulled me away from the window seconds before the glass started to rattle. “But mom I want to watch… it looks so pretty…” I objected. She held me in her lap as I strained extending my body as far as I could to try looking out the window. The explosions continued the rest of the day. Later in the afternoon the glass in the widows started rattling continuously, very faint at first that no one noticed it but me. It was different than the way it rattled when the explosions occurred, and I could not help but sneak into the window again to investigate. The den windows were narrow and had a wide ledge that I could sit on; I was the only one that could fit in that space. As I took my favorite position and squeezed into the space behind the window I saw a jet wiz by. It flew at eye level no further than half a block away; it was silver with a strange blue star painted on the tail. Shortly there after the roaring of jet engines was deafening… and I watched as half a dozen men standing across the street looking at the jet as it descended on the valley bellow dropping something from its wings. The men broke out into cheers and were whistling and clapping, as they jumped up and down. Moments later I saw the explosions down in the valley as I was whisked away from the window and rebuked. My mother was so harsh with me that I started to cry, and my grandfather took me into his lap and tried calming me down. After I stopped crying, I asked him “Jiddo… why where those men clapping and whistling when that plane dropped stuff from its wings?” “It dropped stuff from its wings!” he exclaimed. “Yes… it looked like it dropped two jugs of milk… and I saw them fall into the valley making the dirt splash, and then smoke came out.” “Ah… those were bombs… and were did you see the men who were clapping and cheering?” he questioned. “They were standing across the street” I replied. “Well they must have been happy to see the Jordanian air force here to defend them,” he said. “Does the Jordanian air force have silver plains… with a strange blue star on the tails?” I questioned him. “Strange blue star!” he exclaimed. “ “I think I can draw it” and with that I jumped out of his lap, ran into his office and came back with a pencil and paper in hand. I climbed back into his lap and drew the star and said, “see… it looked like this.” As he looked at my drawing he explained “Ah… that is called the Star of David and the jet you saw must have been an Israeli one.” “Are those men across the street Israelis?” I asked. “Israelis! Stay here… I’ll go look,” he said as he pushed me off his lap to get up. He cautiously walked to the window looked outside, and then came back. “No… they are Arabs,” he said, as he sat down and pulled me back into his lap. “Then why are they cheering? Are the Israelis defending them too?” “No the Israelis are attacking them,” he explained. “Then why would they be cheering Jido?” I asked, as I was confused. “Well… they looked like old men to me… maybe they cannot see too well.” I was still confused but I did not ask any more questions, as I laid my head on his chest and quietly listed to the explosions rattle the glass.
For the remainder of the war it was much of the same thing, we spent most of our time in the back bedroom (the safest room in the house since there was no bomb shelter). During the next two days the Israelis gained ground as the Jordanian army retreated. By Wednesday June 7th the Israeli army had advanced all the way to the Jordan River, and their combat engineers blew up all the bridges across the Jordan River, cutting off the West Bank from Jordan. On the 10th of June the war stopped, and the next day my cousins and I were able to go out and play in the front yard. I saw no more explosions in the valley below, but I did see army jeeps flying a white flag with the Star of David on it drive up the mountain. The occupation of the West Bank of Jordan had started.
Several weeks went by, and every day my parents and grandparents would listen to the radio with intensity. I never understood why till my father announced with excitement, “they are going to open up one of the bridges tomorrow,” and I realized it meant we could go home. As more details were given over the radio it was revealed that the bridge would only allow for foot traffic. My father was disappointed, but it was agreed that he would drive my mother along with the kids early the next morning and drop us off at the bridge, were we would cross to the other bank and get a taxi to take us home. He was to stay with my grandparents until a bridge would open for vehicular traffic, and drive the car home. My grandparents and uncle were to stay behind and sell their furniture while my father located a place for them to live in Amman.
The next morning as the sun was starting to rise; I hesitated as we said our good byes on the bank of the Jordan River. I clung to my father as he hugged me and told him I wanted to stay with him. He explained, “it will only be a couple of days and I will be home.” I replied with tears in my eyes, “you said that when we left our house in Amman, and it has been several weeks now.” He hugged me tighter and said “I’m sorry habibi, but I cannot control the war… I promise I will be home the same day they open up the first bridge cars can drive on.” With that he gave me a kiss on the cheek, and got into his car as my mother grabbed my hand. He waved and drove off, and I insisted on staying there and waving until his car vanished into a cloud of dust down the road.
My mother, my three cousins and I, walked to the waiting area (a large unpaved lot) that was filling up with people queuing to cross the bridge. Behind us on an elevated area, I could see the barrel of a big gun pointing at us, sticking out of a hole in the wall of neatly stacked sand bags. A white flag imprinted with the blue Star of David flying over it; which, by then I was able to recognize as the Israeli flag. In front of us, on the other side of the Jordan River I saw another gun pointing towards us, as it stuck out of another wall of sand bags with the Jordanian flag flying over it. As the morning progressed the line behind us grew until I could not see the end of it. At one point, a group of Israeli soldiers arrived to inspect the area, and stood in front of the wall of sandbags a few feet away from were we stood in line. They were led by a tall skinny bald soldier, who wore a black patch over his left eye, held by a black string that went over the top right side of his bald head and came around below his left ear. He held a black baton in one hand and continuously tapped the end of it against the side of his leg, and occasionally against his other hand. He stood there for a long time, while other soldiers talked to him and pointed across to the Jordanian guns and sandbags on the other side of the river. Prior to then, I had never seen a man with a patch over his eye, so I pointed to him and asked my mother “why does that soldier have a patch over his eye?” and my mother looked at him and said, “it is impolite to point habibi.” She then went on to tell me that he may be wearing the patch to cover a missing eye, and my one thousand and one questions ensued, as I stared at him until he left with his entourage. I never forgot his face and as time went by I learned that he was Moshe Dayan, the Israeli minister of defense in charge of the war.
The waiting area had no facilities. It was getting hot and I was getting thirsty. Every time I would tell my mother “mama I’m thirsty” she would reply, “we’ll be crossing soon and there will be water on the other side.” The Jordanian core of engineers was working as hard as they could to make the bridge passable. Finally it was opened, and as it became our turn to cross, we were ushered to the bridge. I could see that it was built from old timber that was used for making concrete forms. My mother held my hand with one of hers, and she held one of my cousin’s hand in her other one, as she clinched one of their bags under her arm. As we advanced on the bridge, the roar of rushing water grew louder. We approached the middle of the bridge, and suddenly a piece of lumber collapsed from under my feet. I found myself dangling under the bridge, looking strait down at the falling lumber as it disappeared into the white caps of the brown turbulent water. All I could think about was how it looked just like a river of chocolate. As I extended my body to try and reach with my empty hand for some of that chocolate, I felt my mother tugging at my other arm. I looked up and saw the bottom side of the bridge, with my mother’s head and one arm sticking through the hole. She had a terrified look on her face and her lips were moving frantically, but all I could hear was the roaring chocolate down below. I reached up with my empty hand and I felt someone grab it as I was pulled up. My mother clinched me in her arms so tight that it hurt, but she could not hear my objections as the roaring of water obscured them. We sat there for another few seconds before a couple of soldiers reached us, and one grabbed me and my youngest cousin who was eight, while the other grabbed my mother and took the bag under her arm. We were escorted to the safety of land on the other side of the bridge. My mother collapsed to the ground and grabbed me into her lap and said with tears in her eyes, “are you OK… are you OK habibi…” Aside from a few scratches I was fine although I was disappointed I did not get any of that chocolate.
Later that day we finally arrived at our house. My mother fixed us a quick meal, bathed me and put me in my bed, then left to tend to my cousins. I fell asleep as I pondered the events of the last few weeks and wondered when my father would be home, and whether the bridge they build for his car to cross over will be strong enough. A couple of days later my cousins departed to Qatar to be with their parents, since that was where my uncle Anthony worked and lived. I did not see them again until the summer of 1977.
It took a couple of very long weeks before my father was to make it home. I would spend most of those days sitting in the window of our living room watching the street… waiting to see him drive up. Finally one day towards dusk I saw his car approaching the house… I recognized it immediately, although it looked different… white instead of forest green. “Baba is here… Baba is here…” I hollered. My mother came rushing to the window, looked out and said, “that’s not him… his car is green.” I argued “it is him mama… it is him.” As we looked on we saw a man, the same color of the car, climb out of the driver side. I rushed to the door unlocked it swung it open, and ran half way down the stairs to greet him. He was covered with white dust from head to toe, he planted a kiss on my forehead, and as he stepped through the door and kissed my mom, he said, “boy do I have a story to tell you.”
After taking a shower, as we sat down to eat our evening meal, my father told us the story of his journey from Beit Jala to Amman: “ Yesterday they announced on the radio that this morning the northern bridge would be open for vehicular traffic. I packed the car and said my goodbyes before we went to bed last night. I got up at four this morning, and left Beit Jala at the break of daylight. I drove through many Israeli checkpoints, until I got to the final stretch of highway leading to the bridge. I was hoping that I would not be stopped again, but about ten miles away from the bridge, an Israeli soldier came out onto the road, out of no were, holding his gun and carrying a back pack. He flagged me down, and as he walked up to the car he said, “I have military business and I need to confiscate your car… but if you will wait here I will bring it back as soon as I can.” There was no alternative but to get out of the car, as I watched him stick his backpack and gun into the passenger side. He got in behind the weal, and drove off the highway into the empty field as I watched the white dust cloud he left behind. I thought about what I should do. Traffic on the highway was light, and for the most part it was Israeli army vehicles, that I knew I should not stop. It was still mid morning; so I found a big rock on the side of the road and I sat on it and waited. By around four o’clock I started to get concerned… I did not want to spend the night on the side of the road with a dusk to dawn curfew in effect. I decided to stop the next civilian car that would pass me, but then I saw a cloud of white dust on the horizon. I decided to wait and see if it might be the soldier with my car. Sure enough I recognized my car as it got closer although it looked white instead of green.” “I recognized it too when I saw you driving up to the house baba… but mama did not believe me when I told her it was you” I interrupted. My father smiled at me as he continued, “ I did not recognize it either when I saw it at first habibi, but when it got closer I was sure it was my car that was being followed by an Israeli army jeep. The soldier pulled up and parked it next to me, as the jeep parked behind him. I walked around the car to get to the driver side and saw gasoline leaking out from under the back of the car. The soldier said, “ I told you I will bring it back” as he climbed out of the car. I thanked him for keeping his word, and pointed out the leaking gasoline, as I asked him for his opinion as to how far I could travel with it leaking like that. He walked around to the passenger side and got out his backpack and his gun. He laid his gun up against the car, and sat his backpack on the trunk as he reached in to pull out a bar of soap. He handed it to me and said, “rub it onto to the gas tank were it is leaking,” as he got into the waiting jeep. Will it hold I asked, and he yelled out the window as the jeep drove away “ yes it will… don’t worry.” I got under the car and rubbed the soap onto the spot were the gas was leaking, then I drove all the way to the bridge. I pulled over after crossing the bridge and checked the leak and the soap was holding. I stopped again in Irbid to get gas to be on the safe side, and then drove all the way home.”
“I don’t want you to ever stay away from us again baba” I ordered as my father tucked me into bed that night. “I wont habibi… I promise” he replied as he kissed my cheek. I went to sleep with a big smile on my face, as he turned off the light and said “good night habibi,” before walking out of the room.
My Second War
My second war provided a more intense experience of the cruelty of war.
The rest of My second war, will be added soon....
© Copyright 2006
All video clips displayed above were produced by 411 Productions, www.411show.blogspot.com